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Sunday, March 1, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Southern California's Best Margartas and Margarita Madness!

Go to this link, Golden State Eating: Nine Tales of California Food Destinations,  or the one below to get your copy of our e-book. It follows us along as we go from Los Angeles to Napa Valley and back again, highlighting nine great food trips to take in this state.

To celebrate, here's our Margarita Madness Cocktail Hour which features the video that's embedded in Chapter 1 of our book. Enjoy...


The first chapter is our new Southern California's Top Three Margaritas and features this video that we've spent the last 6 months working on and putting together so we could launch it with our book.

Watch the Video!
Southern California's Top Three Margaritas

Check out the video and for the complete story...along with eight more delicious chapters and well over an hour of video...go over to Amazon and download the book. At only $2.99, you'll have your own personal GPS to delicious eating up and down this Golden State.

Below, check out our Margarita Madness video where we try to determine our own personal favorite margarita recipe.

Thanks for you support - Darryl


We've been challenged, folks.

The first Cocktail Hour we ever did was my version of a margarita. A bartender in Baja California said it wasn't a margarita...to be authentic, a margarita had to consist of only tequila, Cointreau (or Grand Marnier or triple sec), and lime juice.



Watch the Video!


Now I've had a margarita at the bar legend says invented this drink and had it that way. It's OK, but not as tasty as I can make it.

But the gauntlet has been thrown and we must answer.

Tim joins me as we make a completely authentic margarita and we give it a taste. Then, we make one with my recipe and see which one tastes better.  Who will win? Watch the video embedded in this report to find out!


Classic Margarita
1.5 oz. tequila
1 oz. Cointreau (or triple sec)
juice of one lime


Salt the rim of a martini glass using the rind of the lime. Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice and shake. Strain over the rocks in the martini glass.


Darryl's Margarita
1.5 oz. tequila
1 oz. Cointreau (or triple sec)
.5 oz. brandy
juice of one lime
1 oz. Sweet and Sour mix.


Salt the rim of a margarita glass using the rind of the lime. Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice and shake. Strain over the rocks in the margarita glass.


Which do you prefer?


Cheers!
-Darryl

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ensenada After Dark


Mexico turns into a different place after dark. Check out this video as we go in search of some street food after the sun goes down.




We find a taco shack at the edge of an empty lot doing big business.



It's where we find this taco de al pastor.



Also, here's where you can find all of our Ensenada reports, photos, and videos (link below)...

The World on Wheels Visits Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

Darryl

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The L.A. Transit Parallax


It's hard to believe but recently Los Angeles was ranked as the 3rd most transit friendly city in the United States.  We've made huge strides here in this sun-soaked metropolis in public transportation in the last two decades and there's more to come.

We now have a subway, several light rail lines, and commuter rail to go along with our vast bus system.  The one thing we don't have (yet) are signs at the stops and most stations telling you when the next ride will be coming like they do in Europe.

There are some transit apps for your smart phone or tablet that can be utilized to various effectiveness.  We're going to put the top three to the test...NEXTRIP, NEXTBUS, and the LADOT App.


NEXTRIP is used by Foothill Transit to predict when the next Foothill Transit bus will arrive at your stop.  It's not too hard to use. You go to the site, www.foothilltransit.org/NEXTRIP ; find the bus line you're waiting for; and use the dial bar at the bottom to dial in your stop. When you press "Done" the next three predicted bus arrivals appear.


My Foothill Transit bus is only a minute late

NEXTRIP uses GPS technology that pairs the bus location to the stop chosen.

PROS: From the three or four tests I've done with it, it's pretty accurate. Bus arrivals were within a minute of what is displayed.

CONS: There's no reload button. You have to start at the beginning to recalculate or choose another bus stop.  It only displays Foothill Transit buses when there might be a number of buses using the same stop from other transit agencies.


NEXTBUS is an independent arrival app technology. It's at nextbus.com . Nextbus uses the GPS location of your phone to predict when the next bus, or train, will arrive. It has the advantage of redirecting you to another stop or station nearby if that is a better choice.

PROS: Nextbus will give you a menu of several providers that come by your area, you're not limited to one.  It uses the GPS location of your smart device, thus enabling it to display numerous stops or stations in your area which you can use to determine the most efficient bus line or train to take to your destination, not necessarily the one that will stop at the stop you're standing at.

CONS: Is supposed to be accurate to 2000 meters...that's two kilometers...and prediction times are not as accurate as the other two apps listed here.


LADOT App is provided by the L.A. Department of Transportation and provides arrival predictions of its buses, most notably the DASH buses used downtown. It has the added feature of having a live map showing you icons of exactly where the buses are at any given moment. Get it at ladotbus.com.

PROS: The maps are very accurate and the bus icons shown on them are a perfect way to see exactly where that bus is.

CONS: Only works with LADOT buses. Sometimes the GPS units in the buses are not working so those buses do not show up on the map.

While I think the LADOT app works the best, the Foothill app is also pretty accurate, while the NEXTBUS app is not quite as accurate but covers more transit providers.

Next time you're waiting for the bus in L.A., be sure to have each of these bookmarked so you know when your ride will be there.

Darryl
Copyright 2015-Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Rare Family Treat in Baja - San Quintin and Ensenada


See our previous chapters here...Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of this report.

After a fun-filled and relaxing day at Bahia de San Quintin, we're relaxing in our room at the Mission Inn in Vicente Guerrero when my wife announces that her brother just posted on Facebook that he, his wife, and their two kids are at Estero Beach Hotel in Ensenada.

While we'd had some other plans, mostly of the shopping variety, for tomorrow, this changes things.

The wife and kids live in Mexicali so it's a rare day when we get to see them. I haven't seen the boy for five years and I've never met the girl.

We quickly rehash the itinerary. Third night at the Mission Inn is cancelled and a quick call to Estero Beach gets us a reservation for tomorrow night.

Bags are repacked and we bed down to get rested up for our impromptu family reunion the next day.

We have a final breakfast at the hotel restaurant, shower up (which will come in handy for what's ahead), check out, and hit the road.



On the way down, Letty saw a guy selling copper pots on the side of the road. I said we could stop and take a look on the way back if he was still there.  He was so I have to honor my promise.

She checks out the dozens on display and shows me the pot she wants and tells me the guy wants $180 US for it. I start back towards the car.  She tells the guy that I won't spend that much money.   He drops the price to $120. I show him the $80 I have in my wallet and tell him he can have that for the pot because that's all I have.



Deal. Now just to find a spot in the van for a rather large copper pot.

We chat with the guy for a few more minutes before continuing on to Estero Beach, which is nearby. 



After checking in, we find our room is just three doors down from Letty's brother's room. It's large and the hotel has been upgraded since we've last been here.  A spacious room with two queen beds, flat screen with a whole lot more than the three, barely perceptible channels we had last time, and the same patio with the great ocean view.



Families come together on our patio. Tim, my brother-in-law, and I kill a bottle of tequila together while chatting in the ocean breeze.



My nephew and niece are two very sweet kids with the girl being a little more of an extrovert than the boy.  I take them over to the nearby beach.



Between their very basic grasp on English and my similar skills in Spanish, I'm able to at least teach them the joys of building sand castles.



We spend the rest of the day just catching up on the patio before having up to a great steak dinner at the adjacent restaurant and calling it a night.



In the morning, I go to take a shower but when I turn the spigot all the way on, nothing comes out. I call the office but there's no answer.  It's about a quarter mile walk to the office so I wait a bit.

After about an hour, the phone rings. It's the front office apologizing that there's no water. There won't be until noon, they say. I'll be out by then, I say.  

"How about a free breakfast on us?" 

"Won't the restaurant need water too?" I ask.

Probably, the lady at the counter admits. I ask for a room discount which they are not too keen to give.

Hanging up, I that God that I took one last shower in San Quintin, along with Tim taking one too, so we can get by if we needed to.  A half hour later, two water trucks arrive to fill up the hotel's cisterns. Water is now available and all talk of discounts are off the table.



With that, it's one more plate of chilaquiles in the restaurant and it's off to endure the border crossing back into the states.  It's a complete pain but at least today it only takes us 68 minutes to cross compared to the almost three hours of our last trip.

That's it for this trip into Mexico. For us, and you, this will wrap up our Month of Mexico.



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Photos copyright 2015 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 22, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Margarita Lite



I know we've done a margarita recipe before but this is special.  


We wanted to adopt a healthier lifestyle, lose a little weight, and get into better shape.  So far, it's been working.  The bad part is that cocktails are usually full of empty calories.  Hey, we like to drink too but we need to retool.


Watch the Video!


So, we've cut way back on the heavy drinks, switched to wine for the most part, and experimented with making a lighter cocktail.  Here is the first result of that retooling.
(Note:  In the video, I miscalculated a say it's about 125 calories...it's actually about 150, see below)




Our new margarita lite recipe is just as good as our original margarita recipe but with about 80 less calories.  The alcohol is the same, 3 parts tequila, 2 parts triple sec, and 1 part brandy.  The difference is the mixer...we're using Sunkist Diet Sparkling Lemonade instead of sweet 'n sour mix.


Here's the recipe (two drinks):


2 ounces tequila                                   - 140 calories
1.25 ounces triple sec                         - 120 calories
.4 ounces brandy                                 -    40 calories
juices of 1/2 lime                                   -    5 calories
4 ounces Diet Lemon Soda                -    0 calories


Total Calories                                       - 305 calories
Calories per drink                                - 153 calories


(A Cadillac margarita at most restaurants, which this closely resembles, is about 325 calories per drink)


Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full with ice.  Put in all ingredients except for lemon soda and shake.  Pour lemon soda over ice into margarita glasses or cocktail glasses rimmed with salt (about half the depth of the ice).  Pour ingredients from shaker over that.  Enjoy the results - beware, these are still strong drinks.


Cheers!




Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bajo en Baja: San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico


See our previous chapters here...Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

It's morning in San Quintin. Actually, Vicente Guerrero, the city right next to San Quintin. That where the Mission Inn, our hotel, is.  There are two here. This one with two accessible rooms with its English spelling and another one on a nearby beach, Mision Inn (notice the Spanish spelling) that is not accessible.

We've come simply for the proposition "what if we kept driving past Ensenada? What would we find?"
Watch the Video!


San Quintin is the next town of any size south of Ensenada. It's around three hours driving time further down from that large, port city.


Baja travel guides note that this is the last chance for a few hundred miles to access major services for drivers on Mexico's Transpeninsular Highway like gas, car service, ATM, supermarkets, and decent lodging.


While the town is sizeable, it's not large. The highway is the only paved road in town.  It's a dusty, muddy, and basic place. I have to wonder why they even have car washes here like the somewhat inapprotriately named business we see across the street from the PEMEX gas station above.


The town is nice. There's no drunken tourists clogging the streets or drug cartels shooting it out in the background. It's main business is farming...this is the tomato capital of the world with thousands and thousands of red fruit ripening to send north to supermarkets on the other side of the border.


Just because there are few, if any, tourists around doesn't mean there is nothing to see.  Strapping Tim in tight, we head west down an unpaved dirt and gravel road. Signs say we have three miles to go.  After a very bumpy few minutes, another says two miles to go.  Tim's complaining mightily about the beating he and his chair are taking when we see another sign..."Yeah!! You made it!"


Finally, we pull up to the bay where a gentleman waving a flag directs us into a small parking lot. We find nowhere to park with a wheelchair van so we go back out, explain it to him, and he puts us in a spot right next to the boat ramp where there's also a wheelchair ramp to access the facilities.


We're at Bahia de San Quintin and the Molino Viejo (old mill) restaurant and bar. At the top of the bay, you'll find this large restaurant, larger bar, an ocean front plaza to relax it, boat ramp, parking, small history museum, fish cleaning sink, a couple of spartan motels, and another restaurant and bar next door.

The plan is just to spend the afternoon exploring, eating, drinking, talking to people, and unwinding.

A small flea market is set up between the restaurant and neighboring Old Mill Hotel. Letty goes browsing there while Tim and I set up at a waterfront table and enjoy a bag of chips and some Mexican Coke.


Dozens of pelicans fly around, dive bombing unfortunate anchovies, and pose for pictures on the pilings. I walk over to a rock-protected depression at the narrow neck of the bay where kids are pulling in fish and clams.

This used to be a large wheat mill. An English company was granted a concession to grow and mill wheat in the area.  Remains of the millworks litter the area. Ships were loaded with flour and sent out to the world.


Now, it's a sleepy but beautiful little fishing village where fisherman line up at the boat ramp to head out to the abundant waters. At 3:00, the boats come back in where loads of large fish are taken to be cleaned at the sink.

We visit with the manager of the Old Mill Hotel and she shows us one of the four accessible rooms here.  It's a large room with a large bathroom. A queen size bed shares the space with a twin bed giving plenty of room for 3 people. I imagine there'd be plenty of room for a roll-in bed if needed also. The shower is big and barrier-free. It is a very accessible room.


Beyond that, however, it's not much. No TV (but that would be a feature, not a bug for some people) and no air conditioning. Here in the fall and winter, that's not a big deal but those hot Baja summers would present a challenge even if it is on the ocean.

Outside is a nice sized patio with a large fireplace and grill. At around $40 per room per night, this would be an ideal place for a family reunion or get-together. I'm already planning one in my mind...


We go back to the Molino Viejo and have a few drinks...Tim and Letty with their Pina Coladas while I try the Cadillac margarita.  After, we visit the small museum next door.


Dioramas depict the areas history while a few artifacts, such as a mammoth tooth and some native tools, illustrate a more ancient history.


Over across the driveway, we find the remains of a boat on the beach, another little plaza, and some informational signs about the bay. Tim and I go to the water at the edge of the boat ramp to get our toes and wheels wet.


We end the day having dinner back at the restaurant, filling up on steak, burgers, and fish before bumping our way back to town and the Mission Inn. It's delicious food and very budget friendly. Where else will you get a great ribeye steak dinner with all the trimmings for less than $15 these days?

Tomorrow, we have more plans for San Quintin but those will be interrupted for a more important mission. Stay tuned for that.




Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The Genius Treatment


NOTE: We can't always be on the road so this occasional series of posts presents stories of a more general nature, things that happen to us while at home.  Hope you enjoy them...

There's not a lot my son can do. He can't play sports the way he'd like to; play a musical instrument; move out on his own...you get the picture...but there are some things he can. These he develops a passion for such as movies, gaining knowledge on sports, travel, etc.

One thing Tim loves is his music. Hopefully, I've inspired it, but he has great and evolving taste in music. For Christmas or birthday presents, he only has one request. iTune cards.  Along with his noise cancelling headphones, it's a great convenience for those hours long drives or flights to help him pass the time easily.

Tim loves his iPod and he has the largest capacity one ever made at 160GB.  He loves to boast that he's up to whatever this weeks number of songs are...in the thousands...so you can imagine his dismay not too long ago when his beloved iPod would no longer sync with iTunes on his computer or anybody else's.



Not only that, but when he logged onto iTunes, his account was empty.  A blank slate.  Easy you say, just sync the iPod with iTunes and problem solved but iTunes would not recognize the device. The backup and sync icons were grayed out.

A little backstory will come in handy here. One day, a few months ago, Chrome...the Google browser that Tim prefers to use...would no longer work on his laptop. Nothing that anyone at Google or the many offering advice on the Internet could suggest would work.

The last resort was reinstalling Windows 7. The update only install didn't work so we backed up his data and did a complete reinstall.

That fixed the Chrome problem. Unfortunately, now we had the iTunes problem.  Again, nothing we could find would fix it except I was finally able to get our desktop to recognize it and sync the songs on the iPod into iTunes but Tim still could not sync newly bought music back down to the device.

While resetting the device (wiping it clean and starting over, basically) would be the option, the empty iTunes window on Tim's laptop had me scared from trying this option. I didn't want to be on the hook should my son lose thousands of dollars of music, so a trip to the Apple Store and the Genius Bar were in order.

I booked a reservation online at the store in Rancho Cucamonga, a 28 mile drive away. It's only 12 miles to our closest store in Pasadena but we'd have problems parking and it's not free either. An extra 15 minutes would be a small price to pay not to have to deal with the crowded conditions in Pasadena.

We made a day of it. Tim got dropped off to see an early matinee of 'Whiplash' in Claremont. Letty and I had a snack for breakfast and did some clothes shopping. Our plan was to meet up again after the movie, have a quick lunch, then head to our appointment.





The Apple Store is located in Victoria Gardens, a giant outdoor mall that is so big it has several streets within to drive your car around.  It also has two streets called Main Street (north and south) and, of course, we picked the wrong one to park on. By the time we found the store, we'd whittled down our lunch time to 30 minutes.

The plan was revised to go to the store and see if maybe we could check in early.  No dice.  We are told to come back 10 minutes ahead of our appointment and check in.

The Apple Store site said our visit with the genius should only take 15 minutes so we decided to put lunch off until after our visit.


Coming back at the appointed time and checking in, we're told to wait at a nearby table to be called for the genius. Ten minutes later our name is called and, seeing Tim in the wheelchair, we're told to wait where we are and the genius will come out to us.
I set up Tim's laptop and iPod so we can get right to work.

25 minutes later, we're still waiting for the genius.  When we ask, we're told we're next on the list.  What was going on when they called our name to go up to the bar? Who knows, we're never told.

The same guy that told us to wait at the table for the genius now comes and tells us to head to the bar. What happened to the genius coming out to us? We're told they could help us at the bar better.

I break down our setup,head to the end of the bar (where a foldout platform is deployed for wheelchairs) and set it up again. We tell the genius the problem. She doesn't want to hear it, at least from us. She wants to hear it from Tim.

"It won't sync," he says.

"What are the symptoms?" she asks.

"It won't sync."

See, the problem is that Tim relies on his in-home IT specialist (me) to diagnose the technical problems. He can't really describe whats happening because he didn't deal with it.

Finally, I tell her she needs to listen to me because I'm the only one who can describe what's been going on.

OK, it needs a full reset. I make sure to ask that Tim will not lose any of his purchases.  No, he won't but anything he's copied from a CD (about a thousand songs) will be deleted.

Wonderful.

Reset commences, genius disappears ("I'll be right back."), and the synching begins.  About 10 minutes later, it appears the sync is complete but we want to make sure the genius looks it over and gives her OK but she's nowhere to be found. Out of the 25 or so employees just standing around the sales floor, she isn't one of them. Eventually, we ask what happened to our genius and someone goes to look for her.

She was out back smoking a cigarette. Finally, she give her OK and our hour and a half at the Genius Bar is over.  What an ordeal.

Stomachs rumbling, we finally head over to a nearby Fuddruckers to have a giant hamburger to quell our hunger.

Remind me why it is everybody is so crazy over Apple products again...



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 16, 2015

Some Mexicans, an Asian, and an American Go Into a Bar...a Night at a Baja Cantina


We're at our destination, see Part 1 here.

So, we've arrived at our hotel. If I'd have blinked, I would have missed it, but we're here and settled in.

This trip is a bit different. Usually, I'd find a destination then suitable accessible accomodations. This time, I'd found suitable accomodations and knew nothing about the destination other than it was in Baja, close to the ocean.

The room at the Mission Inn is as advertised. It's clean, modern, has an accessible bathroom with roll-in shower, quiet, and comfortable. At $63 a night, it's very reasonable, too.

I walk out to the road while Tim and Letty unwind in the room a bit after dinner. I notice a cantina next door, on the other side of a canal.  I go back to the room to collect the rest of the family and off to the bar.

It's an easy walk with just about 15 feet over that canal that only provides a narrow but accessible path between it and the highway. We wait patiently for a break in the traffic and wander over.



We're reminded why Baja is called the "Outback of Mexico." Beyond Ensenada, it's a pretty wild and sparsely settled region. Walking into the bar, it's like stepping onto the set of a western...rustic, spartan, lots of exposed beams, adobe, and a large fireplace overlooking well-worn tile floors.

The Baja Fiesta serves a varied menu of Mexican cuisine but since we've just had dinner, we head into the bar.

The bartender comes over and pours us shots of Patron. He speaks perfect English...as he should because he used to live in Portland, Oregon, and came back down to help his family run the business.

I notice the selection of tequila is a bit on the paltry side.

"People around here don't know how to drink tequila. They're more likely to order whiskey or champagne."

He tells us of people who come in for parties and order the most expensive bottle of tequila, only to have him make margaritas out of it.


I see some bottles of Baja Fiesta IPA beer in the fridge and ask him about it.

"My mom makes it and we sell it. She also makes the wine."

I have to have a bottle.  It's pretty good and I let him know.


At that point, an Asian man walks in and the bartender calls him over and says we like the beer.

"He helps my mom make it."


A lively discussion of homemade and craft beer ensues with the Asian man, the English speaking Mexican bartender, and us. It's an international beer seminar here on a dusty road in Baja.

After a few rounds of tequila and beer, we ask for the bill and call it a night. Total damage...$12 and it's an easy walk back to our room, even in the dark. Fun times.


Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 15, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Cadillac Margarita


You see this variation of a regular margarita at many restaurants these days.  It's becoming so prevalent that you can now go into just about any bar and order a Cadillac margarita and the bartender will automatically know you talking about tequila, grand marnier, brandy, plus a sour component.


Watch the Video!

This is just an upgrade from a regular margarita but it does make it taste better...if you do it right.  The key is to use good ingredients. 100% agave tequila, Grand Marnier (or Cointreau) instead of triple sec, a nice brandy (or cognac if you really want to go upscale) for an added kick.  Lime or lemon juice in place of sweet and sour mix.




All hand shaken and served over the rocks.


INGREDIENTS
2 oz. - premium tequila
1.3 oz - Grand Marnier or Cointreau
2/3 oz - brandy or cognac
2 oz - lemon or lime juice (or 1 oz. of each), fresh squeezed


Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, shake and pour over ice into two salted-rim margarita glasses.


Cheers!



Darryl

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Road to Ensenada...and Beyond!


I love the Lyle Lovett song, "The Road to Ensenada," and I love the road itself (click on that link to hear the song, it really is a lovely tune).  While the rutted, poorly maintained, pothole pocked road of my youth is still there, these days we don't like to live such a harsh life.

That's why we'll pay the 6 or 7 dollars it takes for the smooth, well maintained, and fast toll road from the beaches of Tijuana to the outskirts of Ensenada, a little more than an hour south.


Watch the Video!



Only this time, we're not stopping in Ensenada. Today, for the first time, we're venturing beyond into unknown territory as we head another three hours south, looking for the twin towns of Vincente Guerrero and San Quintin.

First, we must arrange the proper paperwork. When you cross the border into Mexico, there is a signal. Supposedly, get a green light and off you go. A red light means further inspection. We have found, though, that if you are driving a van, you'll be directed into the secondary inspection bay no matter what color of light you got.


We planned on stopping anyway to get tourist permits at the immigration office, so it's not a big deal today, but it's annoying at other times.  An inspector tells us where to park after he's given our car a cursory search. After getting Tim and his chair out, another guard tells us no, this is not the correct place. Put Tim and the chair back in the van, drive across the road (100 feet or less), park there, and walk into immigration.

Can I just move the van and Letty and Tim walk over? No...you must put everybody back in and drive.

Such is the bureaucratic maze you go through in our neighbor to the south.  To be fair, although it's much more straightforward to come back, getting into Mexico takes but a few moments.  On the best of days, coming back into the States takes hours.

It's hard to get straightforward information on getting a tourist permit (AKA a tourist visa) online. You need one when you go south of the border area (Ensenada, in this part of Baja) or stay longer than 72 hours. Online, the instructions are a mishmash, but basically it said to go to the immigration office, fill out the form, take it to the bank next door, pay the approximately $25 fee, go back to the immigration office to get your permit and have your passport stamped.

In reality, that procedure is just for those who stay more than 7 days in Baja or go into any other part of the country for any amount of time. If you're here less than a week, there is no fee.

We simply filled out the forms (one for each person), had our passports stamped, and we were on our way. The exit of the parking lot goes directly to the ramp for the Ensenada road.



A short but hilly drive puts you at the beaches of Tijuana with its giant bullfighting ring sitting a few feet south of the international border fence.  The first toll plaza awaits here. Today, the toll is $2.25.  There are three toll boothes, so the total toll will be $6.75. The toll varies with the exhange rate. You can pay with either Mexican or U.S. currency but you must choose one or the other (you can't, say, pay with dollars in the first toll booth, pesos in the next one, etc.).

While the extreme northern Baja coast is getting a big dose of urban sprawl, with not a lot of empty land between Tijuana and Rosarito, there's still sections of coastal beauty that rival Highway 1 in northern California. In fact, this highway's number in Mexico is 1.  While hordes of tourists decades ago contributed mightily to this, big industry and moviemaking has put it over the top.

When Hollywood found that they could make big blockbusters for much less down here (it's only a three hour drive south), they transformed the town of Rosarito into a movie town. The large studio on the south side of the city, whose backlots can easily be seen from the toll road, is where James Cameron came to film "Titanic."

It's been a busy studio ever since.

The rest area bathroom stops near the first toll booth are pretty palacial, even by American standards. Beyond Rosarito, not so much. When it's time for a needed break, the first rest area we pull into is closed and has pretty much been taken over by vendors. We keep going.

Another rest area soon pops up. It's open, sort of. The bathroom has pretty much been abandoned by the government but enterprising local men have taken to keeping it up hoping to get tips from stopping motorists.

The college student manning it today keeps it as clean and friendly as he can, even though there's no longer any running water, with a couple of large barrels of water outside. He explains the situation to us and he uses his tips to pay for his schooling.

Letty is impressed with his industriousness and leaves him with a bag of her cookies, along with the tip.  I look over the side of the parking lot and see a lovely campground down below, with cabins for rent (pictured in the video preview, above).

What a beautiful, lonely spot to hunker down for a couple of off-the-grid days it would be.

Back on the road, we soon pass Bajamar, a resort with one of the best golf courses on the West Coast, and then into the city of Ensenada itself. We're not stopping here today, though (see our trip to Ensenada here).  This is just the halfway point.

The cities and towns that make up the bay of Todos Santos (All Saints) have made it a pretty sizeable city.  It's a lot of stop and go for the next 20 miles until we make it past the last stop sign at Maneadero, the last town we can go to without a tourist card.

Since we have ours, we push ahead to the Valle de Santo Thomas.  Gone are the litter strewn streets of the cities and towns, along with the shanty towns of the poorest parts of each town.  The scenery turns from occasionally very nice to spectacular as we wind through Baja's wine country.

It's late December and recent rains have made everything green and lush. Vineyard after vineyard flashes by. We need to do some wine tasting down here sometime but today we're just passing through.

Once we leave the Ensenada area, the road becomes a fairly well maintained two lane highway.  There are two mountainous areas to climb over with some parts having perilous drops down into the chasms below with no guard rail to retard your fall.

The hundreds of small roadside memorials we pass today remind me to be ever-vigilant while driving this road.

I'm doing well but some local drivers can be very reckless and idiotic, passing on blind mountain curves hoping their luck will hold out and a large truck won't be coming the other way.

I see a semi truck going just the speed I want to go and being careful on the road. I tuck in behind him as protection to let him clear the way for me (that's why you see the truck in front of us in several of these photos).

Over the mountains, we come back to the coast and endless fields of tomatoes, strawberries, and other assorted produce. Most of this will end up in the supermarkets of the U.S. west coast.

We go through several towns, almost identical, with shops and dirt parking lots right on the highway. It's the same in every town...small bumps on the road leading to a large bump in the middle of town. It's where the pedestrians are supposed to cross.

Halfway through one town, I almost miss the Mission Inn.  Breaking fairly hard, Letty and Tim are asking "what's wrong.?"

There's our hotel...I almost drove right by.

We settle in.  It's a decent, clean, and modern hotel in the middle of town. The room is good with two queen beds and a bathroom with a roll-in shower.  Quite a find down here in the land of the inaccessible.

It's dinner at the hotel's very good restaurant then we'll settle in for the next part of our adventure.



Darryl
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